June 29, 2003
Background: This cruise was a gift from our children to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Our group included my wife and myself (age 70) our three children's families (ages 40-48) and three grandchildren (ages 10-19) for a total of eleven. Our cruise experience was from zero for one member to nine for my wife and myself. It was everyone's first cruise on Carnival. We picked the Inspiration primarily for its itinerary, since no one had been to Costa Maya or Belize.
Embarkation: Since we live in Florida we drove to Tampa and parked in the nearby parking garage. (Cost is $70 in advance but they do take credit cards). The directions we had were great until you exited the Interstate. From that point it was not very well marked and you had to go slow to find the street signs. The bag drop area at the pier was small, but the security officers kept traffic moving through it. After dropping the bags, even though the garage was across the street, the signs to the entrance were small and hard to follow. There appeared to be plenty of parking spaces.
It was 12:30 by the time we had dropped the bags and parked. We headed into the terminal for processing. It was fairly crowded but they had a good system so it took about 30 minutes until we were ready for boarding. Everyone was on Riviera Deck and all the rooms were made up when we arrived. It was decorated with streamers and 50th Anniversary banners. We dropped off the carry on baggage, met our room steward, Kerina from South Africa, and headed to the Lido deck for lunch. After lunch we spent about an hour exploring the ship, went back to our room. Our bags were waiting for us so we unpacked and got ready for the perfunctory emergency boat drill. Surprisingly it was held indoors in one of the lounges. I thought the whole exercise was pretty casual and wasn't sure how it would be handled if their was a real emergency. Since it was indoors, we missed the departure from the Port of Tampa.
The Ship: The ship was clean and neat. Considering they board 2500 people each and every week, there were little signs of repair needs. The décor is very modern and a little eclectic. The only problem we encountered was finding the Carnivale Dining Room from the front of the boat. It seemed as if you always had to go up or down a deck to get to it.
Cabins: One pleasant surprise was the size of the rooms. We had an inside cabin. It was larger than some of the outside cabins with balconies on other cruise ships. The bath was also larger than most others. There was a safe but no hair dryer. The cabin steward soon learned our routine and always had the room made up. The towel animals are a cute touch.
Food: The food at dinner was very good with a lot of variety. We ate dinner in the Carnivale dining room every day and the selections on Saturday, the last day of the cruise was as good as what we had on Monday, the first day. If you couldn't make your mind up between two items there was no problem in ordering both. We split our breakfast and lunches between the dining room and the Brasserie buffet on the Lido deck. I felt the buffets were a little boring with not a lot of variety. However the pizza at the Pizzeria was excellent. The ice cream machine was a major player in the six pounds I gained. Our waiter Rommy was from the Philippines and his assistant Ane was from Romania. They provided us with excellent service during the cruise. Ane was especially attentive to my ten year old grandson.
Ports of Call:
Costa Maya - A pleasant surprise. Since this is a new port of call we were not expecting much. While one daughter went on an excursion to the Mayan Ruins and loved it, the rest of us stayed in the beach village. This stop was a little like the private islands that some other cruise lines own. There were some shops that sold souvenirs and trinkets, a large salt-water pool with a swim up bar, a restaurant with a band and free beach chairs. The beach itself was rocky and not a good swimming area. After checking out the shops we spent the rest of the day around the pool (and pool bar).
Cozumel - We had a medical emergency on board soon after leaving Costa Maya and the ship steamed at full speed to Cozumel arriving around midnight. They announced that they might allow the passengers to disembark after they handled the emergency. At 1:30am it still hadn't happened so we went to bed. The next morning my son and I who are certified divers took his 10-year-old son and my 16-year-old grand daughter to a beginner's scuba class. It was a quick study but it allowed them to experience scuba diving in the crystal clear water the surrounds Cozumel. They both loved it. Another group who weren't so adventurous went on the snuba tour and the rest went to Chakanaab State Park to enjoy the beach. Of course everyone ended in town for the shopping before reboarding the ship. It was a great day for all.
Belize - This is another port that requires a tender to go ashore but since most of our group opted to spend part of the day at Goff's Caye the tour boat picked us up at the ship. After about a thirty minute ride the boat captain dropped part of the group on the atoll and took the rest out to a deeper reef. This was a major disappointment. First, they didn't have snorkel vests and you had to use regular life vests. Second, you had to stay with the group, which didn't allow any independence in exploring the reef. After about 45 minutes we went back to the atoll and spent another hour there. The inshore snorkeling was much better, a much varied amount of sea life and clearer water. If I would do it again I would stay on the island all day. After discharging those passengers that wanted to return to the ship, the tour boat took the remaining passengers into the terminal area at Belize City. We looked for the last minute souvenirs at the small shops before returning on the tender. The high steel barred fence around the terminal area did not give us a comfortable feeling about going into the city for our shopping.
Debarkation: This process was fairly easy. The Lido buffet was crowded and if you slept in you would have had a difficult time finding a table. Those that had an early flight were off the boat by 9:30. Those that drove were the last ones off the ship. We were called a little after 10. The pick up area was jammed so I tipped a porter $10 to take all our bags to the parking garage. We were on I-275 ten minutes after loading the bags in the trunk.
Overall: Everyone in our party thoroughly enjoyed the cruise. It was full of families and young adults. It was nice seeing people enjoying themselves with out being loud and raucous. Now that I have had the Carnival experience I would not hesitate to use them again.